When his dad was diagnosed with cancer, it was Stanislav Rajic who had to break the news to his parents in Croatian, who then helped them navigate the medical system in this new country.
Originally from Bosnia, his family arrived in Canada in 1998, after living for years as refugees in Croatia. Stanislav was 23, and quickly became the most fluent English speaker in his family
As a result of his journey, he understands the challenges of being in a new country where you don’t know the common language and he has spent the last two decades helping build bridges between immigrants and Canadian-born Londoners, often working with people living in poverty.
“I was always drawn to social services and community work and neighbourhood work,” says Stanislav, who is Community Outreach Co-ordinator at Crouch Neighbourhood Resource Centre.
Although he arrived as a licensed electrician, his certification was not recognized in Ontario. But that was ok with Stanislav, who had spent years working as a support worker in a Croatian refugee camp and felt compelled to continue helping others in need of social support.
Stanislav says for many newcomers, the biggest challenge is feeling like they don’t belong. He recalls the first time he felt like he belonged in London.
“After a few months here, somebody saw me on the street and called me by name. That recognition, being recognized gave me a sense of belonging.”
His first job in London was working with newcomers through LUSO Services, then on Hamilton Road. He has also worked for the city of London, Child and Youth Network and now as Community Outreach Co-ordinator at Crouch Neighbourhood Resource Centre.
Behind the scenes, Stanislav volunteers with community organizations and helped launch North East Community Conversations with Jacqueline Fraser.
One of the first events they held was a workshop that had participants to complete a simple task. There were two groups. Both were English speakers, but one group received instructions in another language. “We wanted to help people understand that feeling of powerlessness many newcomers feel when they don’t speak the language and they are trying to interact with the system,” says Stanislav.
“Real engagement is not just to participate, but to be involved in the development,” says Stanislav.
He says his work has given him not only a sense of purpose, but a sense of belonging in Canada.
She came to study business, arriving as an international student at Western University in 2011. But Fan Liu stayed to help strengthen the community, volunteering and working with agencies that aim to help support vulnerable Londoners.
By the time she graduated, Fan changed her focus to psychology and started looking for work that would help her give back to the community that had made her feel at home despite sometimes-debilitating language barriers.
Fan’s first job in London was with Youth Opportunities Unlimited, helping the agency build relationships for its jam manufacturing enterprise, now called Mushed by YOU. Youth Opportunities Unlimited is dedicated to helping young people in London & Middlesex be successful.
“I loved working with London at-risk youth to help them reach their potential,” she says. But Fan wanted to help more people when she wasn’t working and so she signed up as a volunteer with London’s Cross Cultural Learner Centre to help a family from Syria who arrived as refugees.
She also volunteers at the London Chinese Association and with the London Middlesex Local Immigration Partnership to help with strategic planning on how to better support newcomers.
These days, Fan continues to volunteer, while juggling two jobs – one at the John Howard Society working to help build bridges between newcomers and service providers in London and the other as a global engagement coordinator at Western.
She feels dedicated to the work she does. “London is welcoming. People are nice here and they have a strong passion to help newcomers and get to know them, but sometimes they don’t know how. There is a need for someone to be that bridge.”
She says she volunteers to give back the support she received as a newcomer.
“When I got into university I received lots of support from Western. People here make London feel like home to me. That’s why I want to give back.”
Cold, snowy weather is often a hot topic for newcomers to Canada. It can be a challenge for those who come from warmer countries. For May Ali – who moved to Canada from Egypt with her family in 2016, the weather inspired a sense of purpose. “I thought, ‘winter is so cold here, why don’t you have heaters in the bus stops?’” recalls May, who taught interior design at Egypt’s Alexandria University for more than 15 years before leaving her home country. “When you come from another place, the first thing you see are the challenges for you,” says May, who is now a professor at Fanshawe College. “I thought I could help solve this problem.”
Research is her passion, and soon May began collaborating with other researchers from the U.S., United Kingdom and Egypt. Last fall she presented their results at Fanshawe College’s Research and Innovation Day – a modern bus stop complete with heat, WiFi, solar panels and wind turbines.
“Design is supposed to help people not just be beautiful, but to help the community you are in,” says May.
She says the transition to life in a new country was not always easy. Her kids missed their family back home. Her positive attitude and determination were the key to fulfill her ambitious. Her experience was positive. She found work within a week of beginning her search, and she encourages other newcomers to stay positive and to never give up.
Her family made new connections, her kids have a diverse group of friends and May is happy about the opportunities they have here. She says her family appreciates the diversity in London. “We have to explore, engage and share our experience.”
Along with devoting her research to helping community, May devotes her free time when she can, volunteering with her kids’ school whenever possible.
“I’m rewarded for helping people because I feel the appreciation,” says May. “Work from your heart, and good things will happen.